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2015 Policy Wrap Up: Credit the Minimum Wage Value of Workfare

July 22, 2015

Author: Susan C. Antos

On June 16, 2015, after impassioned speeches by bill sponsor Dan Quart and Social Services Chair Andrew Hevesi, the Assembly passed A.2050, a bill that would assure that New Yorkers who are required to “work off” their public assistance grants get credit for their work.  The Senate companion bill S.1120 (Squadron) remained in the Rules Committee at the end of session.

In New York State, properly paid public assistance is a debt owed by an individual who receivs such assistance, and is subject to recovery under a number of provisions of the Social Services Law.  The recovery of such assistance is expressly authorized against windfalls such as inheritances (SSL 104), lawsuit proceeds (SSL 104-b), lottery winnings (SSL 131-r), and retroactive SSI awards (SSL 158(2)). 

Prior to 1997, it was the longstanding policy of New York State to require local social services districts to credit workfare against any recovery of properly paid public assistance. Walker v. Shang, 66 AD 2d 6, (2d Dep’t 1979).  When welfare was "reformed" in 1997, chapter 436 of the laws of 1997, section 148 repealed a provision of the Social Services Law which had codified the holding in Walker.  This bill would restore the prior policy, which recognized the value of workfare.

This bill would amend Social Services Law § 336-c to require local social services districts to credit the value of workfare against public assistance debt by calculating the number of hours worked, multiplied by the higher of the state or federal minimum wage, codifying the holding of the United States District Court for the Western District of New York in Elwell v. Weiss, 2007 WL 2994308, which addressed a challenge to a county’s seizure of a former recipient’s retroactive SSI benefits.  It held that the Fair Labor Standards Act requires that workfare participants receive a credit equal to the minimum wage value of their labor when a local district calculates the value of a public assistance recovery. 

This legislation would also codify the holding of the Appellate Division in Carver v. State of New York, which came to a similar conclusion with respect to the state’s interception of the proceeds of lottery winnings as it applied to an individual who had worked off his grant. Carver v. State, 87 AD3d 25, 34 (2d Dep’t, 2011), leave to appeal granted by 23 N.Y.3d 906 (6/14/14). The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance has appealed the Carver case to the New York State Court of Appeals, with arguments scheduled for September 16, 2015.


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